Over the last decade, America has quietly expanded its military presence throughout Africa in an attempt to counter Chinese and other emerging nations’ influence, while consolidating control over critical strategic resources and trade routes.
The United States, like its allies Britain and France, has long maintained influence and indirect control in Africa through financial institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and African Development Bank. It has exerted political influence using aid organizations such as USAID and NGOs like the National Endowment for Democracy, Freedom House and others.
However, recent years have seen an unprecedented military expansion which has gone almost entirely unnoticed by the US public.
After 9/11, the United States began to grow its military footprint on the African continent under the guise of a ‘War on Terror’, selling this notion to a United States gripped with fear of terrorism. With programs such as the Pan-Sahel Initiative, later broadened into the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative, Washington managed to provide military and financial assistance to compliant countries in North Africa – a policy whose practical application meant that the US military became the dominant force in the Sahel region, supplying the human and material resources for which the governments of the region were starved. Naturally, this meant an implicit subservience to US military command.
The Pan-Sahel Initiative, according to the Office of Counterterrorism, US Department of State, was “a State-led effort to assist Mali, Niger, Chad, and Mauritania in detecting and responding to suspicious movement of people and goods across and within their borders through training, equipment and cooperation. Its goals support two US national security interests in Africa: waging the war on terrorism and enhancing regional peace and security.” In 2005 it was replaced by a larger-scope Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative, which in turn was incorporated into the United States Africa Command in 2008.
However, all the initiatives in the post 9/11 period were still under the authority of a variety of military commands. To remedy this, in 2007 the Bush administration created US Africa Command (AFRICOM) to act as the umbrella organization under which all US military activity in Africa would fall. AFRICOM became an officially independent command a year later, and in the seven years its scope of activity has broadened tremendously, with its direct or indirect presence extending into nearly every country on the continent.
Far from initial AFRICOM agenda
AFRICOM’s mission statement reads like a campaign slogan, stating that “[AFRICOM] advances US national interests and promote[s] regional security, stability, and prosperity.” However, a more critical analysis would question exactly how Washington defines “security, stability, and prosperity,” and perhaps most importantly, whose prosperity they’re principally interested in.
Ostensibly, the US military acts to defend ‘democracies’ in Africa for the collective betterment of the people of the continent. As Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Theresa Whelan stated in 2007, “AFRICOM is about helping Africans build greater capacity to assure their own security.”
However, even the words of AFRICOM’s leadership quickly dispel that mythology. Vice-Admiral Robert Moeller, military deputy to former commander of AFRICOM General William ‘Kip’ Ward, told an AFRICOM conference in 2008 that AFRICOM’s goal was “protecting the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market.” Furthermore, Moeller wrote in 2010, “Let there be no mistake. AFRICOM’s job is to protect American lives and promote American interests.”
The military leadership made their agenda quite clear from the very outset of AFRICOM: provide a military presence to ensure the continued exploitation of Africa for the enrichment of finance capital, and the maintenance and expansion of US hegemony on the continent.
Perhaps the most obvious example of AFRICOM’s mission on the continent was its coordination of the US role in the NATO war on Libya. Directing the war from its secretive base, known as Camp Lemonnier, in Djibouti, AFRICOM played a key role in identifying targets, organizing forces, and providing tactical intelligence.